Sick Arafat arrives in France

29th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 29 (AFP) - Frail Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was admitted Friday to a French military hospital near Paris for urgent treatment for what is said to be a potentially fatal blood disorder.

PARIS, Oct 29 (AFP) - Frail Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was admitted Friday to a French military hospital near Paris for urgent treatment for what is said to be a potentially fatal blood disorder.

The frail-looking 75-year-old arrived by helicopter from a nearby military airport, where he had landed aboard a French jet from Jordan in an emergency medical evacuation authorised by Israeli authorities.

The Percy military hospital at Clamart, a south western Paris suburb, where he was flown is a state-of-the-art facility which specialises in trauma cases and blood illnesses.

It is the first time in three years that Arafat, symbol of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, has left his West Bank base, a sign of the gravity of his condition.

French President Jacques Chirac, speaking from Rome, said the decision to admit Arafat was because of the country's tradition as a "land of refuge."

"It was natural that France, a land of refuge, would not question the right of the president of the Palestinian Authority to come for medical treatment in our country," he told reporters.

Arafat was initially diagnosed with severe influenza, but one of his doctors told AFP that further tests revealed a disorder in which his white blood cells were destroying blood platelets needed for blood clotting.

Such an illness could signal an advanced stage of cancer, he and other medical specialists said, and could result in internal bleeding.

Arafat's transfer to Paris was the first time he left the confinement of his West Bank compound of Ramallah in three years.

He was placed under virtual house arrest there by Israel after the latest Palestinian uprising, or intifada, which started in September 2000.

Wearing a dark green military overcoat and a fur hat instead of his trademark chequered keffiyeh headdress, he was taken from the compound by helicopter to Jordan, where he blew kisses to a waiting crowd and chatted with officials.

Although he walked to the French Dassault Falcon jet largely unassisted he had to be helped aboard in a visibly frail state.

Israel, which has declared Arafat an obstacle to peace and threatened to kill him several times, has promised it would not impede the Palestinian leader's departure or return to Ramallah after treatment in France.

Palestinian sources said Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei and former premier Mahmud Abbas, number two in Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), would take charge of the Palestinian Authority in Arafat's absence.

France's decision to treat the Palestinian leader underlined the support Paris has shown him in the past, sometimes to the chagrin of Israel and the United States.

In a letter to Arafat made public Thursday, Chirac wrote that "France, as you know, backs the aspiration you embody for the creation of a viable, prosperous and peaceful Palestinian state alongside a state of Israel assured of its security."

French officials have regularly visited Arafat in his Ramallah compound, and in June, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier cancelled a trip to Israel after it refused permission to see him.

The first time France stepped in to save the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was in 1982, when French soldiers helped him leave the Lebanese capital Beirut for Athens while Israeli forces closed in.

Arafat's wife Suha lives in Paris with the couple's nine-year-old daughter Wahwa.

France's main newspapers headlined Arafat's presence in France, with the Liberation daily saying that the international concern over the turn of events has brought into relief what it called the paradox of the Palestinian leader, who it said has missed opportunities to resolve the long Middle East conflict.

Today, "nobody is betting on the chances of peace coming about, because everyone also fears that, without Arafat, the future will hold even more chaos," it said.

Media from around the world have converged on Paris to cover his arrival.

At the military hospital in Clamart, 80 police officers were deployed to provide security for the walled establishment, while more than 100 journalists waited out the front alongside a handful of Arafat supporters holding flowers and Palestinian flags.

Leaders from several countries said they were closely following his state of health.

US President George W. Bush, whose government has frequently backed Israel against the Palestinians, told USA Today that "we're obviously concerned about his health, as we would be concerned about any leader's health."


Subject: French News

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